A Denali National Park and Preserve employee died Thursday when he triggered an avalanche while backcountry skiing in the park, officials said.
Eric Walter, 32, had been skiing alone on an unnamed slope south of Jenny Creek and east of Savage River, according to a statement from park officials Friday.
The park’s sled dog kennel staff received a report around 1 p.m. that someone had seen a skier trigger an avalanche on a north-facing slope near Mile 10 of the road, the statement said. Rangers responded and saw an unoccupied truck parked at a pullout. One of the rangers used a spotting scope and saw two skis and an orange bag in the avalanche debris.
Mountaineering rangers traveled to the area in a helicopter, park officials said. Two rangers were lowered into the area and determined Walter had died. His remains were recovered from the area, said Maureen Gualtieri, a spokeswoman for the park.
Park rangers later determined a hard, dense slab of snow broke near the top of the mountain and left about 800 feet of debris, Gualtieri said.
Avalanche conditions range significantly throughout the park because the snowpack varies considerably, she said.
Walter was an avid outdoorsman and an experienced skier and backcountry user, Gualtieri said. He worked for the park service in Alaska for more than a decade, first starting in 2011 as a student intern at Denali National Park, where he worked in the resources division.
Walter was a backcountry ranger at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve during 2012 and returned to Denali the next year to work as a student intern and also at the kennels, Gualtieri said. He became a seasonal ranger in 2014 and later that year was hired permanently at Denali as a dispatcher at the Alaska Regional Communications Center.
The park service described him in a statement as a much-loved member of the communications center team who “was known throughout the Alaska Region for providing radio-based safety support and dispatch services for National Park Service operations across Alaska.”
“With someone like Eric, who was a park dispatcher, they’re so instrumental to our daily operations — as dispatchers and radio personnel, they’re kind of almost always in the room with us, so to speak,” Gualtieri said. “So it’s a profound loss throughout the park on every level.”
Walter is the first person to die in an avalanche in Alaska this season, according to the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center. His death also marks the first this year within the national park. Three climbers died in the park last year.